Ohmigod, I’m in JK Rowling territory: I’ve got FAN FICTION!This was written not by moi but by Everett Kaser, and I figured it was either sue or run it, so here it is. (It comes as I begin to noodle the fourth Junior, called KING MAYBE.) Enjoy!
It’s hard enough just walking in a clown costume with the big floppy shoes, it’s simply impossible to stay on your feet when you’re shoved through a doorway by two beefy muscle men. Especially when one of them helps you along by tripping one of your ankles. It wasn’t my most graceful entrance. I still would have landed without injury if my hands hadn’t been tied behind my back. As it was, I manage to twist like a cat and tried to punch a hole through the concrete floor with my right shoulder.
“Have a nice trip!”
“See ya next fall!”
“The boss’ll be here in a while. Don’ go nowhere, ya here?”
And the door slammed behind me. Why is it that guys with big muscles and little brains always think they’re as smart and witty as everyone else? When you are smart and witty, you don’t have to constantly go around displaying the fact. Take me, Junior Bender, I’m smart and witty, but I’m not always a show-off about it. Not more than once an hour, maybe less if I’m eating regularly.
“Hi, Dad. Going to the circus?” My daughter Rina, on the other hand, she obviously got the smart and witty part from me, but missed out on the self-control.
I groaned—I may be smart and witty, but I feel pain like the next guy—and rolled over on my other side. She sat on the floor, her back against a big steel pole and her hands tied behind her. I couldn’t have stopped the grin that split my face if I’d had a swarm of fire ants in my underwear. “Hey, Rina. You okay?”
“Oh, hunky-dory, never better, now that you’re here.” Her brave front was spoiled a little by the quiver in her lower lip. She wrinkled her forehead. “You are here to save me, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’m all over it.”
“Well, that, too.” I rolled onto my face—it’s good for more than looks—and inched my way up onto my knees, trying to balance more on my forehead than my nose. The floor smelled of old concrete, straw and cat urine. When I finally got to my knees, I still had most of the skin on my nose. I must have lost the nose-ball during the car ride. But I damn near ended up on the floor again as I tried to rise to my feet. Those damn clown shoes tripped me, and it felt like I cracked my knee-cap as I landed painfully back on my knees. I had to do a quick knee-shuffle to keep from diving onto my face again. Then I managed to work the clown shoes off and climbed to my feet.
“Ah, to stand, to walk, to outrun a scuba diver.”
“So, do you have an actual plan, or are you just clowning around?”
“A plan? Oh, sure. The plan was to get in here and then come up with an escape plan. Step one accomplished.”
Rina shook her head, took a quick breath and let out an Olympic quality huff. “I feel so much safer.”
“Hey. It’s okay, Rina. I promise, I’ll get you out of here safely.” I was hoping the serious, calm, confident sound of my voice would calm and soothe her. “These guys aren’t looking to hurt you, they just want to use you as leverage against me. Now that they’ve got me, you’re safe. I promise.”
“Yeah, but what about you. What are they going to do to you?” I could tell I was going to have to work harder on my calm-and-confident voice lessons.
Looking around the room, I didn’t see anything I could use to cut my hands loose. The room was bare except for a small wooden table, two wooden chairs and an over-abundance of dirt and cobwebs. There were no sharp edges I could see anywhere, no windows, just the one door. The room wasn’t big, more of an oversized closet or storage area. I’d already tested my own bonds in the car, and there was no way I was going to get that rope untied by myself. Moving behind Rina, I could see that our captors weren’t as worried about her. The rope tying her arms around the pole looked like it had been tied by a granny. There were a lot of knots, but nothing fancy, obviously tied by someone who could barely tie his shoe laces and who thought more knots meant more secure.
I backed up to the pole and as I slid down to a sitting position, our hands touched and Rina’s fingers clenched at my own. I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t the other way around. After a moment, not more than half an hour, I relaxed my grip. “Let me see if I can untie your knots.” I shifted my position to get my fingers closer to the knots by her wrists and, after a little fumbling, found one end of the rope. As a successful thief, I’ve never been one to chew my nails, and I never cut them entirely to the quick. You can call me girly, but you never know when you might need a little extra edge, and when you’re without any other tools, an eighth-inch fingernail can be a life saver. I started picking away at the knots.
“So, why the clown outfit?”
“I needed to find you.”
“That explains just about—nothing.”
She must have gotten the sarcasm from her mother.
“I didn’t know where they’d taken you, so I had to get them to tell me where you were. But they weren’t going to do that, so I figured it was much more likely they’d take me to you than lead me to you. But if I just walked in and surrendered myself, it was also likely they’d be suspicious and keep us apart. But if they captured me, then they’d be more likely to treat me just like you and take me to the same place they took you.”
“That’s so much clearer. So, why the clown outfit, Dad?”
“Oh. Because it was there? I needed some way that would guarantee they’d notice me and make them feel smart for noticing me and think I was being stupid. That way they’d get over-confident.” Another knot came loose. This was taking way too long, I needed to work faster. “I found the clown outfit in the back of a party van. They had a cowboy outfit and a policeman’s uniform, too, but those wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. The clown costume was perfect. A real attention getter, while disguising my face enough to make them believe I was trying to disguise myself. Then I wandered back and forth along the sidewalk across from their place, handing out flowers to women and children while I spied on them. Worked, too, it only took them forty-five minutes to pick me up!”
“You’re twisted, Dad. Do you think like that all the time?”
“Like what? That’s perfectly straight-forward reasoning.”
“That’s more mixed up than the way a teenaged girl thinks, and trust me, I know about that.” Rina was proud of being a teenager now. Another knot slipped loose, and then a second one quickly after that. “So what do they want from you? Why kidnap me?”
“These guys work for a very bad man, Rina, somebody that I stole something from. He wants it back. He couldn’t find me, but somehow he found out I had a daughter.” My fingers froze, and I looked over my shoulder at my 13-year old daughter. “I’m very sorry.”
There was just silence for a moment, followed by another Olympic huff. Then she turned her head towards me slightly. “It’s okay, Dad.” I felt my entire diaphragm melt and head south for the summer.
“I’ll get you out of here, Baby, I promise.”
“Do not call me ‘Baby!’” Then, after a short pause, “Promise?”
“I promise. I won’t call you ‘Baby.’”
“No, promise you’ll get us out of here?”
“Yeah, that, too.”
“Okay. So how are the knots coming?”
“There’s more rope, less knots. Hang in there.” I went back to work and immediately bent a fingernail backwards. Only my carefully trained control and nerves of steel kept me from screaming like a girl.
“So, why do you steal? You’ve never really explained that to me.”
“Because I’m good at it. Some guys are good at working on cars, some are good at building houses, some are good at cooking, everyone has different talents. Stealing is my gift, it’s what I’m good at.”
“But don’t you feel bad for taking other peoples’ things? How did you feel when they stole me?”
“That’s different, Rina. I only steal from bad people and from people who don’t deserve to have the things I steal. I don’t steal from people who can’t afford to lose it.”
We sat in silence for a while as I worked on the knots.
“That’s not true.”
“Hmm? Sure it is. It’s one of my rules: never steal from people who don’t deserve it or can’t afford it.”
“You’re wrong. You stole from me.”
“Huh? I’d never steal from you, Rina, never! You’re the last person I want to hurt.”
“You did. You stole my family, my home, my safety. You stole my father. Because of what you do. Mom divorced you because of what you do, and I lost all of that.”
I suspect that people who die in really bad car wrecks have a second or two, a moment filled with both total clarity and utter terror. A moment when they realize, with no doubt, they are about to die—horribly—and at the same time their brain is screaming, “NoNoNO!” That was such a moment for me. With great clarity, terror and pain, the realization slammed into me that I had hurt my little girl badly. Not intentionally, not with malice forethought or disregard. But it was my fault. The choices I had made and the actions I had taken were a large factor, a very large factor, in why Rina’s family was no longer whole, why she no longer had a father in her home every day, and she knew it.
“Oh, Baby, I am so, so sorry! I never meant for you to get hurt. I just—I never—I just—”
“I asked you not to do that.
“Steal? I didn’t think you knew what I did until recently.”
“No, don’t call me ‘Baby.’”
“Rina, you are the most important thing in my life. You’re the most perfect thing I’ve ever done. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, but you will always come first for me. Always.”
“Are you crying?”
“Of course not.” I sniffed surreptitiously. “When you get older, your nose just drips now and then, especially in the cold.”
“It’s hot and stuffy in here, Dad.”
Silence settled for a bit, and I tried to focus again on the knots.
“It’s okay. I’m okay. Everything we do has effects on everyone around us and everyone around them, and we can’t possibly know ahead of time what all those effects are going to be. Not even you are that smart.”
Did I mention how smart my daughter is?
“Thanks, B—Rina. You’re a better person already than I can ever hope to be.”
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”
“Today is Father’s Day. I made a card for you, too, but it was in my backpack and those jerks took it.”
The last knot came loose, and Rina’s arms pulled free.
“Ah!” She flexed and stretched her arms, then clambered around onto her knees. “Okay, let me see if I can get you untied.”
“No, there’s no time. Do you know how to tie a slip-knot?”
“Sure, I’m not stupid.” See? Smart.
“Okay, take your rope and tie a slip knot on one end.” She picked up the rope and with a few quick loops had a slip knot. “Now loop it over the doorknob and tighten it down, but carefully! Make sure you don’t rattle the doorknob.”
“The door doesn’t have a lock, but we need to lock it.”
“But the rope won’t reach to anything.”
“Sure it will. The door opens outward. Once you have the rope around the doorknob, then get one of those chairs, hold it horizontally with the back against the door frame, and then tie the rope to one of the back legs. The door’s on the other side of the frame, and the chair will be on this side, so that will keep the door from opening.”
“Cool. You’re so smart.” I pushed myself back up the pole while Rina tied the chair to the doorknob and frame.
“Be careful not to rattle the doorknob.”
“I know, Dad!” I tried not to supervise her, she seemed to know what she was doing, at least with the certainty of a teenager. When the chair was tied tight to the door, she turned to me, wrapping her arms around herself like a hug. “Okay, now what?”
“For what? We’ve locked ourselves in a room with jerks on the other side. That rope and chair isn’t going to keep them out for very long.”
“It doesn’t have to keep them out very long. Just long enough for…”
Then I heard the sound of an approaching police siren. Muffled voices changed to shouts beyond the door, and there were thuds of feet as the jerks moved to the windows. The siren got rapidly louder and then the siren cut off, and a voice boomed from a loudspeaker. “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP! YOU WILL SOON BE SURROUNDED!”
“Rina, quick get over here in the corner away from the door!”
That was followed by more muffled voices from the other room, then someone tried to open the door. The knob turned and they pulled on the door, but the chair kept it from opening. That was quickly followed by a short series of gunshots through the door. One smashed into the chair seat, but the back leg that was keeping the door closed escaped without a nick. The door rattled again, and then there was the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM of shotgun blasts and the shattering of glass and wood. That was followed by a rush of running footfalls, a banging screen door, and then silence.
“MORE UNITS ARE ON THE WAY. THROW DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND COME OUT WITH YOUR MITTS IN THE AIR!”
That was followed by more silence. “Okay, Rina, we can get back up. I think it’s safe now.”
The sound of an outer door opening was followed by more footsteps. “Junior? You here?”
“Yeah, in here! Rina, untie the door.” She looked at me, obviously confused, but did as I asked.
When the door swung open, there stood two cops. Or rather, their stood Louie the Lost and Ronnie, dressed in cops’ uniforms. Ronnie’s hair was up in a bun, with her officer’s cap tilted at a jaunty angle, and her figure was doing wonderful things for the uniform. Louie held a shotgun pointed at the floor.
I smiled. “Cops?”
Louie scratched under the back of his cap. “Seemed like the easiest way to get rid of the vermin.”
“’You will soon be surrounded?’”
“Hey, I had to let them know they could get out the back way. Who wants to be dodging bullets?”
“’Come out with your mitts in the air?’”
Louie frowned at me. “Okay, okay. Dammit, Junior, I’m a getaway driver, not a cop!”
I smiled at him, turned around and wiggled my fingers. “All is forgiven if you cut me loose.”
Ronnie squeezed past me with, “Get out of the way, lunk,” and put an arm around Rina’s shoulders. “Hey. You okay?”
Rina smiled up at her. “Yeah, much better now, thanks. How did you find us?”
“We just followed your Dad. He was the perfect bait. Hard to miss, hard to lose.”
Louie cut the rope from my wrists. The outer room was a shambles, the front window blown out, a hole in the top of the door, a couple of holes in the ceiling and sheet-rock dust covered everything. Out front a police cruiser was sitting crosswise not more than an inch from the back bumper of our captors’ SUV. The keys to the SUV were laying on the console. I didn’t want to ask where Louie had come up with the uniforms or the cop cruiser. He can get a little touchy if he thinks you’re criticizing him.
“Okay, Louie, can you take Ronnie and Rina back to town?”
He nodded, and Rina squeezed between us looking up at me. “Aren’t you coming with us?”
“No, I’ve got some things I need to do. First is making sure that you are never bothered again.” I smiled at Rina and gave her a brief hug. “Second is getting back my Father’s Day card.”
Ronnie raised an eyebrow and waved one hand up and down at me. “Not to be overly critical of your sartorial taste, but uh…”
I looked down at my clown outfit. “Ah. Good point.” I opened the back door of the SUV and found my missing nose ball under the driver’s seat. I resettled it on my nose as I turned back to them, feeling a wicked grin growing on my face.
“I think it’s time to teach some jerks to have a healthy fear of clowns.”